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Monsoon Through The Lens Of Bollywood Films

Indian monsoons share a tempestuous relationship with the behemoth that is Hindi cinema

By Sonali Shah  June 28th, 2021

I sat to write this article in the scorching heat of May in Mumbai—an odd setting to recall memories of rain. But little did I know, that as I put the proverbial pen to paper, Cyclone Tauktae swept the region, bringing heavy showers in the city. And then as it poured outside, my glass window turned into a mini silver screen and memories flowed. As a monsoon lover who’s into cinema, the intersection of both elements is my happy place. I found myself spending the afternoon thinking about the diverse ways in which our filmmakers have channelled this rainy element.

Rains have played a regular catalyst in romance, and being a ‘90s kid, the first one that pops to mind is of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. SRK in a black shirt, Kajol drenched in a hot red sari, and their dance in pretend-music at the summer camp as they escape the downpour is iconic for my generation. Most wet-sari rain songs though, cater to the male gaze. What fascinates me in this context is the happiness and freedom that rain sometimes affords to women, sans a man. To see Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan let her hair down in AR Rahman’s ‘Barso re’ (Guru) and Kareena Kapoor-Khan splashing about in ‘Bhage re mann’ (Chameli) was refreshing.

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The rain-gods have come to the rescue of many a filmmaker, enabling them to convey a spectrum of emotions—intimate, destructive, flirtatious, suspenseful, overwhelming and healing. Thanks to rented rain machines, the monsoons come down on the director’s call of ‘Action!’. But the season isn’t always romanticised and rain clouds hang heavy as a dramatic element in many a film. Mani Ratnam’s Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya and Vikram starrer Raavan falls under this category. The three are battling it out in the deep jungles of Kerala. There are crashing waterfalls, and to top it—incessant rain. It helps build confusion, a certain disorientation.

Underrated films such as Sriram Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddar (a rare, neo-noir Hindi gem), and Bejoy Nambiar’s crime drama David use rain to effectively foreshadow tougher times in the lives of our titular characters. But nothing has built suspense and fear in me as watching Kaun? did back then. A bespectacled Manoj Bajpai sheltering himself with a coat on his head, Urmila Matondkar’s dilemma in letting a stranger into her house, the constant audio accompaniment of the rainfall and the eventual plot twist—what a cracker of a film!

In filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey, the infamous Mumbai monsoons bring the city to its knees. And in that situation, the pair of local thugs try to move a drug shipment. A pothole—the quintessential phenomenon of the season— derails their plans with a gun landing in their captive’s hands. In this plot-driven film, Bhardwaj has only a few moments to spare, and in those, he chooses to show the rainy city. As the plot thickens, the downpour is harder.

In other cinematic legends such as Lagaan, the possibility of monsoon is the leitmotif; there’s barely any rainfall until the very end though. Villagers of Champaner are suffering because the season gave them a miss, and they long for rainfall. As they sing and dance to appeal to the dark clouds, there’s also a misleading moment of hope, but eventually, the heavens hear them.

As a stark opposite is the horror film Tumbbad, where it’s always pouring torrentially, portraying greed. Throughout the film, there’s a sense of dread and gloom, of urgency and discomfort. Tumbbad’s first assistant director, Ankit Kothari explains how the rain is literally the mood of the films. He says, “We shot the entire film without sunlight and in actual rain, over four monsoons. It prepares the viewers for the eventual subterranean scenes, for the darkness that’s inside the well. Like films generally have background scores giving you a hint of what to expect, rain is our medium to build the macabre. Our use of rain was to make the film more tiresome for the audience!”

Photographs: AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo; SMM Ausaja; Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images

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